Last Thursday, former Portland Trail Blazers head coach Nate McMillan joined an exclusive, 19-person fraternity of NBA head coaches to win at least 700 games. In a story celebrating that, Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated looked back on McMillan’s rise towards that milestone, chronicling his years of coaching reluctancy with the Seattle SuperSonics, and soon thereafter with the Blazers, Indiana Pacers, and now, the Atlanta Hawks.
McMillan was particularly humble in recognizing that honor, saying that he hadn’t anticipated the coaching journey going as well as it had for him.
“For me to even be in this position, I never even imagined it,” McMillan told The Undefeated. “I really didn’t. To coach over, what, 1,000 games and to win over 50% of them, I never ever imagined it.”
In the process, he has his eyes open towards what it means for future African-American coaches, who now hold 13 head coaching positions across the NBA.
“It’s great because if guys get an opportunity, and it’s only one opportunity, then you have to make the most of that opportunity, or it’s going to go bad,” McMillan said. “And I think all of these guys are qualified. There’s a lot more out here that are qualified. This has been kind of a ‘who you know’ type of league, and that’s not to say that there’s some good Black coaches out here, too.”
Within the piece, Spears looks into how McMillan had been viewed with high esteem even during his playing days, particularly by George Karl, another former head coach celebrated for his contributions along the Pacific Northwest. In November of 2000, McMillan took on the role of interim coach, and never truly looked back.
Following his run with the Blazers, which ended in 2011-12, McMillan spent three years as an assistant coach, before again finding his way with the Hawks. Given the late-season tear the Hawks went on — as well as a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, McMillan was rewarded with a permanent opportunity to coach the team going forward.
Over the article, Spears hits on how McMillan’s career arc could give him a chance to make the Hall of Fame as a head coach and his role in helping the Blazers through salary cap issues and the post-Jail Blazers era, among much else. The link to that can be found above.